Saudi Arabia issues calming statement as Lebanese tensions rise over port explosion case

Saudi Arabia issues calming statement as Lebanese tensions rise over port explosion case
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 27 October 2021

Saudi Arabia issues calming statement as Lebanese tensions rise over port explosion case

Saudi Arabia issues calming statement as Lebanese tensions rise over port explosion case
  • Politicians denounce intelligence office’s decision to summon Geagea in connection with October violence
  • Lebanon’s grand mufti thanks Saudi Arabia for message of solidarity as factions continue to bicker and issue threats

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari told Lebanese religious figures on Tuesday that the Kingdom “cares for Lebanon’s security, stability, institutions and co-existence between Christians and Muslims.”

The Saudi embassy’s media office said: “There is no legitimacy for the discourse of strife, nor for one that goes against Lebanon’s Arab identity.”

This was the first Saudi statement since the bloody clashes in Tayouneh on Oct. 14.

At least seven people were killed in the violence in Beirut amid a protest organized by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead judge probing last year’s blast at the city’s port.

The protestors, gathered by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, demanded the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the investigation.

According to the embassy’s statement, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian “expressed his appreciation for the Kingdom, led by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for never abandoning Lebanon and its people, despite the unfair stances against the Kingdom by some Lebanese parties that only represent themselves.”

Sheikh Derian added that “the Saudi-Lebanese relations have always been and will remain solid regardless of any offensive speeches because our relations are above these speeches and Saudi Arabia will always see Lebanon as an Arab brotherly country.”

The statement comes after the Intelligence Directorate summoned the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, to the Defense Ministry on Wednesday as part of the investigation into the bloodshed in Tayouneh.

The summoning was the motivation for Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi’s spontaneous visits on Tuesday to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Aoun.

Al-Rahi denounced “the summoning of Geagea only by the Intelligence Directorate to testify.”

Charles Jabbour from the Lebanese Forces party told Arab News that “Geagea will not appear at the Defense Ministry on Wednesday.

“They should start with summoning Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah. All parties should give testimonies, beginning with the party that called for the demonstration. Only when a judge dares to summon Nasrallah, will we be able to talk about a state and a judiciary in Lebanon.”

The move to summon Geagea was condemned by several political figures.

Former Premier Saad Hariri refused “to engage in an absurd conflict and the frontlines of a civil war and sectarian divisions.”

He added: “Announcing that Dr. Geagea was informed to appear before the Intelligence Directorate via a plastered notification is absurd and leads the country into further division along with using state machinery for revenge politics.”

Former Premier Fouad Siniora also denounced “the bias of the judicial authorities in the military court over the deplorable Tayouneh events and the continuing violations of the constitutions by those who were entrusted with the task of preserving and protecting it.”

Siniora rejected “the practices seeking to use the judiciary for reprisals against political opponents, and not for its main mission: To seek the truth and achieve justice.”

Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat criticized the “selectivity instead of a transparent and just investigation for a comprehensive justice.”

He said: “All those who fired shots in the Tayouneh events should be arrested, without discrimination, and this destructive and futile political dispute must be ended.”

Samy Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, announced his rejection to “all the means Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have resorted to in hampering the investigation into the Beirut port blast.”

Hezbollah accused Geagea of firing the first shot on Oct. 14 at the demonstrators who penetrated the anti-Hezbollah and Christian-majority Ain Remaneh area.

Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is also a defendant in the Beirut port explosion investigation, visited Sheikh Derian on Tuesday, reiterating his demand “to either lift immunity from everyone without exception, or adopt the legal and constitutional mechanisms in force in the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.”

So far, all the politicians who have been accused of being involved in the Beirut port blast have declined to appear before Judge Bitar.

Amal Movement and Hezbollah ministers have refused to attend Cabinet sessions unless Judge Bitar is removed and the investigations into Tayouneh are halted, causing a governmental paralysis at a time when Lebanon is in desperate need of reforms to unblock the international aid that would lessen its dire economic situation.

Prime Minister Mikati hoped on Tuesday that “Cabinet meetings will resume as soon as possible to make the decisions required to activate the work of commissions and committees and do what is needed from the government.”

Mikati added that he hoped his government would supervise “the parliamentary elections with full integrity, to enable these elections to renew the political life in Lebanon.”

The joint parliamentary committees held a session on Tuesday and voted to keep the electoral law as it was, thus rejecting Aoun’s proposal to make amendments.

Aoun had objected to holding the elections on March 27 and to the proposals to change the expatriate voting formula by canceling the six seats allocated for Lebanese voters who live abroad.


Daesh attack on Iraqi village kills 10 soldiers, Kurdish government says

Iraqi security forces stand guard during Friday prayers in Baghdad’s Sadr City district as violence continues to affect several areas of the country. (AFP)
Iraqi security forces stand guard during Friday prayers in Baghdad’s Sadr City district as violence continues to affect several areas of the country. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2021

Daesh attack on Iraqi village kills 10 soldiers, Kurdish government says

Iraqi security forces stand guard during Friday prayers in Baghdad’s Sadr City district as violence continues to affect several areas of the country. (AFP)
  • Kurdistan’s PM calls for greater security cooperation between Iraqi Kurdish and Iraqi security forces

SULAIMANIYA: An attack by Daesh militants on a village in northern Iraq on Friday killed three villagers and 10 Kurdish soldiers, officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region said.

Daesh claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in a statement posted on an affiliated Telegram account.
The attack took place in the Makhmour region, a hotbed for Daesh activity that sees regular attacks against Kurdish forces, Iraqi forces and often civilians.
Makhmour is a mountainous area about 70 km southeast of Mosul and 60 km southwest of the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called for greater security cooperation between Iraqi Kurdish and Iraqi security forces to stop Daesh’s insurgent activities.
Iraqi officials and analysts have long blamed a lack of coordination along a stretch of territory claimed by both Baghdad and Irbil for Daesh’s continued ability to wage deadly attacks.
Daesh controlled roughly a third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017, including the remote Makhmour region but also major cities including Mosul.
A loose coalition of US-led forces, Iraqi and Kurdish troops and Iran-backed Shiite militias defeated the extremist group in 2017, but its members still roam areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.
Western military officials say at least 10,000 Daesh fighters remain in Iraq and Syria.
A statement from the Kurdistan region’s armed forces, the peshmerga, said Daesh militants attacked the village in the early hours of Friday killing three residents.
It said peshmerga forces intervened, resulting in clashes that killed at least seven of their soldiers.
Kurdish security and hospital officials said the final death toll was at least 10 peshmerga soldiers and three villagers.
In a separate development, Kurdish demonstrators in The Hague stormed the headquarters of the global chemical weapons body on Friday, sparking clashes in which six people were hurt and 50 arrested, Dutch police said.

FASTFACT

A loose coalition of US-led forces, Iraqi and Kurdish troops and Iran-backed Shiite militias defeated the Daesh extremist group in 2017, but its members still roam areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.

Dozens of protesters alleging that Turkey is using toxic arms in northern Iraq broke through security to enter the grounds of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.
A number of them managed to get inside the lobby of the building before police removed them, diplomatic sources said, while the rest staged a noisy protest outside the front doors.
Police dragged the demonstrators off one by one, put them on the ground and handcuffed them, journalists saw. Some were bundled into waiting vans, but the large number meant many were taken away in a hired bus.
At least a dozen police vehicles sealed off the road outside the OPCW, which is opposite Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s official residence. Several ambulances and a medical helicopter were also at the scene.
Two police officers and four protesters were wounded when the demonstrators “stormed the building,” The Hague police said.
Turkish jets regularly attack the separatists’ bases in northern Iraq and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, with several villages having emptied of their inhabitants since a new Turkish army offensive in April.
The PKK and Kurdish organizations in Europe have in recent months accused Turkey of using chemical weapons, including a nerve agent and sulfur mustard gas, in dozens of attacks in northern Iraq.
“We have called on OPCW and all international bodies to come and independently investigate the use of chemical weapons,” Zagros Hiwa, a spokesperson for the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, the PKK’s political branch, told AFP.


Sudanese group condemns UN’s call to support reinstated premier

 Sudan's then-Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, speaks during a Reuters interview in Khartoum, Sudan August 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Sudan's then-Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, speaks during a Reuters interview in Khartoum, Sudan August 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 December 2021

Sudanese group condemns UN’s call to support reinstated premier

 Sudan's then-Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, speaks during a Reuters interview in Khartoum, Sudan August 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
  • Hamdok was deposed as part of the Oct. 25 coup by military leaders that brought international criticism and disrupted Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy

CAIRO: A Sudanese pro-democracy group has condemned comments by the UN chief urging citizens to support a deal that reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, so the country can have “a peaceful transition toward a true democracy.”
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which was at the forefront of the uprising against former autocrat Omar Bashir, rejected late on Friday Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s comments as a “moral and political failure.”
Hamdok was deposed as part of the Oct. 25 coup by military leaders that brought international criticism and disrupted Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy. He was reinstated last month amid international pressure in a deal that calls for an independent technocratic Cabinet under military oversight.
The SPA said Guterres’s comments were seen as a “justification for violence” against anti-coup protesters, who vowed to continue their street demonstrations against the deal despite deadly violence by security forces.
The US, its allies and the UN have condemned the use of excessive force against protesters who have since taken to the streets en masse. Dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds of others were wounded since the Oct. 25 coup. The agreement, signed on Nov. 21, has angered Sudan’s pro-democracy movement, which accuses Hamdok of allowing himself to serve as a fig leaf for continued military rule.
Guterres told a news conference Wednesday that he understands “the indignation” and outrage of Sudanese who have seen the military coup and don’t want any solution involving the military.
“But I would like to appeal for common sense,” he said. “We have a situation which is, yes, not perfect, but which could allow for a transition toward democracy.”
The UN chief warned that calling into question the solution that led to Hamdok’s reinstatement “would be very dangerous for Sudan.”
The SPA said it would continue peaceful protests until the establishment of a “full civilian” government to achieve the democratic transition.
Since his appointment in 2019, Hamdok has been the civilian face of the government and one of the pro-democracy movement’s most respected figures.
But Sudan’s key pro-democracy groups and political parties have said the deal that reinstated him falls short of their demands for full civilian rule.


Crops at Beirut port silos to be composted, burned after insect infestation found

A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2021

Crops at Beirut port silos to be composted, burned after insect infestation found

A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
  • Crops at Beirut port silos to be composted, burned after insect infestation found

BEIRUT: Tons of wheat, corn and barley stored at the Port of Beirut since the devastating explosion that rocked the city 16 months ago are to be disposed of as they are no longer fit for consumption, it has been found.

As temperatures change, mold, weevils and other insects have made it impossible to reach the contents of silos at the site without protective equipment; according to the World Health Organization, mold produces mycotoxins “which can cause a variety of adverse health effects and pose a serious health threat to both humans and livestock … ranging from acute poisoning to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer.”

Before the blast, the port’s silos contained about 45 tons of wheat, barley and corn, most of which was lost during the explosion. Minister of Environment Nasser Yassin said that six to seven tons remain at the site.

Lab tests run on samples of wheat in cooperation with the ministries of economy, agriculture and environment, the American University of Beirut, Saint Joseph University, and the French Embassy, which brought in experts to assist, showed that the crops “are suitable for neither human nor animal use.”

In August, a year after the explosion, the remaining grains were removed from their silos and stored in the open air to reduce the risks of accidental fires in the hot weather, but resulted in hastening the demise of the crops as fit for consumption.

A committee formed under the government of former Prime Minister Hassan Diab failed to reach a solution.

Yassin told Arab News: “We decided to ferment these quantities and turn them into compost to be distributed to farmers for free, or turn them into industrial firewood to be given to the Lebanese Army to heat its units in the high mountains, or donate them to needy families living in cold areas.”

He added: “Turning them into compost allows us to avoid any procedure that produces heavy metals, and we started with this process with the help of MAN Group, which obtained funding from France to treat organic waste resulting from the explosion, and had signed the contract with the Lebanese state in May.”

The grain is set to be moved to the municipality of Zahle, which has a landfill site able to treat waste and transform it into compost and firewood.

Yassin noted: “We seek to produce 3,000 tons of compost and 3,000 tons of industrial firewood. We have so far been able to produce 500 tons of compost, which is an organic fertilizer and will be distributed free of charge to farmers and we have finished producing 1,000 tons of industrial firewood through special presses.

“Indeed, this type of firewood does not last long while it burns, but we hope that it will alleviate the distress of people who cannot buy diesel for heating during winter, and curb the phenomenon of cutting trees to secure firewood for homes as an alternative to diesel.”

The silos at the port absorbed about 20 percent of the blast wave, which resulted from storing 1,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port alongside seized explosives. Over 220 people died, more than 6,500 were injured and the city’s waterfront was destroyed.

Experts who initially examined the site stressed that the wheat silos, which were severely damaged, would need to be be demolished because they were on the verge of collapsing.

Former Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said in November 2020: “The government will demolish the silos due to public safety concerns.”

However, the Lebanese authorities are yet to take action.

The wheat silos are made up of a giant 48-meter concrete structure built between 1968 and 1970, with a huge storage capacity of over 100,000 tons.

Once considered a key element in Lebanon’s food security, the silos have today become a symbol of the catastrophe.


Air defence test sparks loud blast near Iran nuclear site

Air defence test sparks loud blast near Iran nuclear site
Updated 04 December 2021

Air defence test sparks loud blast near Iran nuclear site

Air defence test sparks loud blast near Iran nuclear site
  • Iranian news agencies earlier reported a large explosion in the sky above Natanz
  • Fars news agency quoted its reporter as saying short blast was heard accompanied by an intense light in sky

TEHRAN: An air defence test triggered a loud explosion near Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility Saturday as nuclear talks with major powers stumble.
The explosion was heard in the skies over the Iranian city of Badroud, just 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the nuclear plant, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"Badroud residents heard the noise and saw a light which showed an object had just blown up in the skies over the city," a witness told IRNA.
But the air defence commander for the Natanz region told state television there was no cause for concern.
"An hour ago, one of our missile systems in the region was tested to assess the state of readiness on the ground, and there is nothing to fear," the commander said.


Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials

Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials
Updated 04 December 2021

Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials

Iran stonewalling JCPOA talks to advance nuclear program, say US officials
  • Officials: Iran was preparing to double enriched uranium capacity and nuclear capabilities during past five-and-a-half months

CHICAGO: Senior US State Department officials accused Iran of not taking negotiations on limiting nuclear technology seriously and using the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as an excuse to expand its nuclear program.

The officials conceded in a teleconference with news outlets including Arab News Saturday that although President Joe Biden views Iran’s conduct as “not acceptable,” the administration is focused on reviving talks rather than pursuing tougher measures or an expansion of sanctions.

During the past five-and-a-half months, they said, while telling JCPOA negotiators in Vienna that they are “getting ready,” Iran was instead preparing to double their enriched uranium capacity and nuclear capabilities.

“We have been waiting patiently for five-and-a-half months. The Iranian government said that it needed time to resume the talks on a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA, and I think what we have seen over the last week or so is what ‘getting ready’ meant for them,” one official said.

“It meant continuing to accelerate their nuclear program in particularly provocative ways, and their latest provocation as reported by the IAEA Wednesday, while we were still in the middle of talks, was to prepare for the doubling of their production capacity of 20 percent enriched uranium at Fordo.

“What ‘getting ready’ meant was to continue stonewall the IAEA despite efforts by all of the P5+1, (and) constructive efforts to find a way forward between Director General Grossy and Iran.”

The P5+1 refers to the UN Security Council’s five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, plus Germany.

Iran is seeking to “walk back” all past compromises during the unproductive six rounds of talks, while asking for more concessions, he said.

“In other (words), not come back with a serious proposal about how we could resume mutual compliance with the JCPOA but raising issues that go beyond the JCPOA,” the official said.

Although US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said in the past that Biden will not “accept the situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow walks its nuclear diplomacy,” the State Department outlined no plans to step up pressure to force Iran to take the talks seriously.

He said he is unsure when JCPOA talks in Vienna will resume, adding: “The date of those talks, the date of that resumption, matters far less to us than whether Iran will come with a serious attitude prepared to negotiate seriously. If they are, they will find a very serious counterpart on the other side, which is the United States, but we will have to wait and see if they take that position. But so far, what we have seen in Vienna in their nuclear program and in their dealings with the IAEA unfortunately suggest the opposite.”

The State Department official brushed aside questions regarding China, which has violated the sanctions by purchasing Iranian crude oil.

“If Iran kills the JCPOA, then other sanctions would come into effect,” he said, declining to detail those actions.

Asked if Biden needed to “calm” the concerns of Israel, which has a huge cache of nuclear weapons, or if there are concerns Israel might respond with a military strike to any Iranian increase in activity, the official said: “We don’t view our job as to calm Israel down ... Our job is to work together towards our common objective. 

“Israel is sovereign country and makes its own decisions, but we think we are stronger when we act together.”